Lodi and Sierra Foothills Wine Tours
Located just a one-hour drive east from the city of Sacramento are several counties known collectively as the Sierra Foothills wine region. This is the heart of California’s gold rush country and when it comes to wine, there is still plenty of undiscovered gold in these hills.
Amador County is the best known portion of the Sierra Foothills wine country. With approximately 30 wineries nestled in the hills just north and west of Plymouth, this is an excellent area for Zinfandel. At one time, this area produced more wine than Napa/Sonoma but once the gold boom ended, the railroads stopped service and Prohibition kicked in, wine production dropped off dramatically. Renewed interest in growing wine grapes began in the sixties and quality has continued to improve as winemakers find the varietals that work best in their challenging growing conditions.
In addition to Zinfandel, other varietals that thrive here are either from northern Italy, like Barbera, or from southern France, such as Syrah. Good examples can be found at many small friendly tasting rooms that often charge little or nothing for samples including Renwood, Deaver, Dillian, and Story Wines. Try Dobra Zemlja for rustic reds, funky atmosphere and a good picnic spot.
Further south and west of Amador County, the town of Murphys in Calaveras County is home to more than 20 wineries within a short distance from a well-restored tiny downtown that looks and feels like the Wild West. Excellent producers in and around Murphys include Newsome-Harlow, Hatcher, Lavender Ridge and Twisted Oak. Just outside of town one of the larger wineries in the area, Ironstone, houses a gigantic 44-pound crystalline gold nugget and offers a park, amphitheatre and other tourist facilities.
South from the city of Sacramento about 35 miles will bring you to the Lodi-Woodbridge wine region. Unlike the Sierra Foothills, this area has very rich soils and river delta growing conditions. Wine grapes have been growing here since the gold rush days as well, but in modern times the focus has been on high-volume production for large wineries such as Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi and Sutter Home. Many wineries from outside the area buy grapes from Lodi’s 75,000 planted acres.
Since the official designation of Lodi as an AVA (American Viticultural Area) in 1986, more boutique producers have come to the area and it now boasts more than 60 wineries, about half with tasting rooms in and around the city of Lodi. Top varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc but fleshy, ripe Zinfandels are typically what this region does best.
A good stop to try a wide selection of local wines is the Lodi Wine and Visitors Center. Just east of Lodi is Vino Piazza, a co-op of ten independent wineries and two restaurants, all located in a restored 1940s era winery building. Many visitors heading to or from the Sierra Foothills area will be pleasantly surprised to find the wine scene in Lodi is well worth exploring.